Clarion Week 2!

So, the deadline for Clarion 2012 is in six days, and you should apply. (Yes, you. All of you. Everyone who wants to write and meet people in the industry and learn like crazy. Rev your laptops now.) In an effort to explain why this is so, that you should apply, I am pulling out my journal and emails from that period and recapping this week by week.

Let’s all just pretend that I deliberately planned to post my recaps now– in the time last year that I was deciding to apply for Clarion– instead of the fact that I forgot to write these. Yes, pretending is fun!

Welcome to Clarion. This is your future for the next six weeks.

Week 2 was the week of John Scalzi. It was also the week my journals moved from detailed and hilarious retellings of the Clarion life to one-line entries such as this one, from the second weekend

“Also I thinked we have medical inference.”


My commitment to posterity’s knowledge is fabulous. But I can reconstruct from what I do have, because I have DETECTIVE SKILLS. And because I’m feeling daring, I’m going to put the week’s quotes and the week’s pictures and the week’s reconstruction into the post and hit BLEND.

Jacob: “That’s a great first line! A great first line for me to underline and write ‘glib’ under.”

Becky: “Looks like Jacob just volunteered to be the one killed and eaten!”

So the week before I turned in a for a Friday Crit– that was the one with a tactile telepathy and auditory danger sense. Awesome idea, poor execution. This week I decided to go for a story about a small town and tea and ice. I turned it in tuesday night, after a weekend where I looked at my grip on reality and decided it was overrated.

It was– disjointed. (Something which happens when you realize 800 words in that you’re writing a flash fiction with no spark and so you shoehorn a romance and a quest into it.)

These are your jurors. Pray for mercy.

The general verdict from everyone was that there were world building issues, and I still hated details, and I wrote TERRIFYING ice scenes. I’m still smiling eight months later, remembering the reactions to the ice scenes. From what others have said, the second week was hard for them, but for me, first week was such an I AM FAILING AT EVERYTHING that second week was much easier. I hit bottom, but that meant I wasn’t free falling into the dark any more.

“Hey man. I-I liked your story.”


“Needs more Aaardvarks.”


On the story-learning front, week 2 was also when I made two big discoveries! The first was the difference between a twist and a plot. In the year previous I’d been writing a story a week, as mentioned previously. Most of those were flash, and for a non-trivial amount of them I was setting up a situation, inverting it at the end, and calling it a story. That’s not plot, that’s regurgitation mixed with mental gymnastics. So learning that was good for everyone. (In related news, actual plot is hard.)

Brooke W:  “Is the AC Broken?”

Andy: “Beelzebub, are you with us?”

The second thing was why I never described anything. I had been thinking about it, and had come up with theories ranging from “description is boring” to “my imagination is not visual” to “why are you all SO MEAN?!?!” Just joking about the last one. Really.

No one is mean! Chris even hugged a giant stone bear, just to demonstrate his love.

In some self-analysis of my writing history, I remembered the several teen years when my primary writing outlet was to go on walks with my siblings and tell stories to them. These walks would go on for hours, and the culmination of that time period was during a road trip when I told a eight-hour fantasy epic to my road-stunned siblings. (This also means that my early writing work is impossible to display and shame me, because it was never recorded. VICTORY IS MINE.) The oral story-tradition was a fun activity, I learned a lot about plot and world-building, and I never described anything. (Try it some time, when you’re telling a story out loud. See how much attention you pay to visual description.) And in my head there was still this idea that description was unnecessary. So of course, now that I knew my bias against description was based on a teenage fallacy, it was a bit easier to say “description is for winners, let me commit some of it for you.”

“You had all the themes in one story. Every one.”

-Brooke W.

We went to John Scalzi’s signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Wednesday, and let me tell you– we were not the only ones there. They were lined up around the walls, and the air conditioning was sending everyone a letter about how sorely mistreated it was. Scalzi read from a novel that at the time was under a ban of secrecy, but now I can tell you is titled Red Shirts. It is hilarious and I want it.

“Were it my story, I would throw the baby out with the bath water at the end.”


One of the things that is not usually mentioned when people talk about Clarion, is that you get to see six very different professional writers in their public professional context. For many people this might not be as eye-opening as it was for me, but I’m from a small town. I had been to a grand total of no readings before, so seeing a wide range of author-audience interactions was AWESOME. I had assumed that there was one style of readings? And then in two weeks I saw Nina Kiriki Hoffman and John Scalzi do readings. They both KNOW their audience, and they’re both really good at it. They give a show.

Scalzi also wrote my critique in elvish. He says it’s a secret code, but I SAW it. Elvish.

What happens when critique session gets out of control. Or a normal day at Clarion. It's hard to tell the difference, some times.

In conclusion, a final quote from critique session.

Chris: “James, you have opened my heart.”

Gill: “With a sonic screwdriver?”

Chris: “Turns out it’s the only way.”

Other posts about Clarion, including my hysterical first post and weekly recaps, can be found here.